Mythic Beaver, Catherine Field an Analysis

Standard

Title
Never thought of a beaver as being a mythical creature; not exactly a dragon or a unicorn now is it?

Gut Reaction
I feel very…sad for this lonely narrator.

What does it all mean?
Someone has recently died and their ashes are being taken home to be scattered. On the journey the writer thinks of the dead and God intermittently.

Yes, I’ll haul your ashes
back to Oklahoma,
the Lord G-d of Abraham
riding shotgun.
I got the coffee sweats already,
just Him and me on I-55,
you in a box on the seat between.

The narrator’s… Partner? Has died, and she is returning their ashes to their homeland with only God for company? From G-d I assume she means god but then why not just write that word instead? Is there a reason for that? Hmm. Whatever the reason, G-d is there with both her and the ashes, supporting them both.
Haul. This is a reluctant journey. Because she doesn’t want to make it? Because she doesn’t want to say goodbye? Because she resents the deceased?
Coffee sweats! I know that feeling!! The I-55 sounds awfully long…. Why not take a Thermos?

We aim for that dent in the dust
where your pa was born
in a sod stable
and your ma minced a snake
with a garden hoe;
that place the trappers named
Beaver, not thinking, for once,
of women.

My American geography is poor but I believe this area she is aiming for – Beaver, Oklahoma? – isn’t it known as the dust bowl?
She shows an intimacy with the deceased because she knows their family history. I love the image created of the mother attacking a snake with the garden hoe; on my braver days I have been known to do this with a spider.
Sod stable; an area/of impoverishment or destitution?
Beaver as a hometown rather than its usual association with, um, women?!

Reminded too much of Texas,
G-d and I both hate
the cottonwoods
stuck to a high sky.
We share a drink,
swap our lies,
and sift out what we can
from the radio.

Why does she hate Texas?
‘Cottonwoods’ – wispy clouds? Why does God hate clouds? Why does she? Because there’s no immediate promise of the rain or…?
When she’s sat with God and drinking with him, swapping lies, is she doubting her faith or questioning it altogether? Is God more important to the deceased than her?
All this thinking whilst listening to the radio and attempting to find something good to listen to?

Your name comes up
and G-d’s eyes get dusty.
When Gene Pitney sings
the “Sh’ma Yisrael,”
G-d stares out,
that box of ashes inside His jacket,
as close as He can hold it.

This personification of God is a little bizarre to me. He’s holding the deceased in his jacket, keeping him safe, keeping him in his embrace, until his ashes are scattered? When she hears the name of the deceased does she search for God for comfort and realise he isn’t there – ‘eyes get dusty’ – staring through this personification she has created for company and only seeing the dusty landscape around her? Does it comfort her to think God is holding on to the deceased? I’m not religious. I apologise; this bit confuses me.
One thing that does seem apparent is that the deceased or the narrator, or both, are Jewish; at least I would assume so from the Shema Yisrael. That doesn’t make it more or less important – other peoples’ beliefs are equal as far as I’m concerned – just making the observation.

There’s Beaver at nightfall,
and bean burritos
to wash down the beer.
We scatter your ashes
where we stop to pee,
the Lord G-d’s laugh
steady as a train blows,
soft as lightning across the panhandle.

It’s been a long drive and she doesn’t reach Beaver until late. Local food for refreshment and then the event they came for; the ash scattering.
It isn’t exactly…a touching sendoff, is it? I mean. She’s driven all this way with this person’s ashes so they can be ‘laid to rest’ in the birthplace, but she just does it where she stops for the toilet? Like they meant nothing? Like she is pissing them away? What? What did this person do to her? What did they mean to her for such mixed emotions? Why would you travel all this way to scatter the ashes so seemingly carelessly?
Is ‘Lord G-d’s laugh’ a thunderstorm? A rumble of thunder in the distance and lightning lighting up the sky over the Oklahoma Panhandle? An ironic symbol for her? Does she feel…free? Brighter? Lighter? Now that the deceased is gone?

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Five stanzas of between seven and eight lines, describing the journey to the deceased’s homeland.

Tone
Odd. Bereavement for someone who the narrator has mixed feelings for.

Suggested rhyme scheme
Free verse. End stopped and run in lines using a mixture of both masculine and feminine rhyme.

Similes and metaphors
Steady as the train blows – continuous like the comforting sound of train on track or harsh and sharp like a train whistle?
Soft as lightning – brightening but in silence – since it’s thunder that makes all the noise?

Author’s relationship with their subject
Peculiar. The tone suggests very mixed emotions. She knows enough about the dead person to have reminders of their history but there is bitterness and anger here too.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Hmm. Searches for analyses throws up links to unrelated books. That modern poetry double-edger again!

Signing off
Maybe ‘mythic beaver’ refers to the hyping up and overstating of Beaver by the deceased, or the vitriol felt by the narrator towards the place.
The narrator seems so confused by the deceased; caring enough to take them home and then casually throwing them away like they are rubbish? It really makes me think that this person hurt her. Was it an abusive or hard relationship? A fiery one? Does she really feel lost without them and is furious at them for dying, to the point of bitter resentment? And does this loss question her faith? Has she not been particularly religious but now, on experiencing death, is she drawn to it? So many questions!
I feel very… dissatisfied by this poem. Not because I don’t like it – I haven’t really made my mind up either way yet – but because I really can’t tell what kind of feelings are going on here. I get the image of a couple that lives for arguing, make ups and break ups, and an unexpected death mid extended shouting match, leaving the ‘survivor’ to feel guilt for not telling the deceased how she feels and anger that the deceased left before she could tell them. It is…unfinished. I want to know more. And I can’t. So now I’m frustrated and annoyed, like the narrator; I don’t get my closure either! Deliberate on the part of the poet?

Links

Catherine Field

Leave It To Beaver

When I read this I think of the song… Burn It Down

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